Nutrition Education in Developing Nations

Sampon Boat, Bangladesh
Sometimes when you travel, you have a lot of time to think about things.

This is kind of a random “other” post blog, but these things are always on my mind and I felt like putting them down onto internet paper. I just got back from a week in Bangladesh and have even more things on my to do list now yet the more I travel, the more tired I’m becoming. Maybe a good break early next year will be good and I can start putting some ideas into motion!

If you follow me on FB, you may know I applied for a fellowship with Duke University through the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics. The Academy is the regulating body for registered dietitians in the US and the goal of the fellowship is to address chronic malnutrition in Central America through conducting a “mapping of the existing interventions and an assessment of the steps needed to address chronic malnutrition in Central America.” When this fellowship was announced, I was so excited. Having wanted to work in world nutrition for the past 10 years now, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. I updated my resume and wrote a cover letter for the position. I did my best to convey my passion to work in this area, but I got no response between the application deadline and the start of the interview process. I emailed to follow up and I was told the interview period was extended. They received more applications than expected so I guess it was going to take longer to make a decision. I never heard back. I was a little crushed, I won’t lie, but the fact that the opportunity came up turned out to be a good thing. It reignited a passion that I’d let die down. I began looking for other opportunities, I followed some NGOs on Instagram, and I even applied for an international independent contractor position through the United Nations Operations website. The position is based in Yangon, Myanmar (woo hoo, one of my favorite countries), but it’s more related to nutrition policy and less field work. The application deadline was extended. It seems like an obscure position so I think they didn’t get enough applicants, but I also did not hear back from them, unfortunately. Anything to get my foot in the door with a big aid organization would be like getting a golden ticket!

Swedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
The golden Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

Back to my travels for a bit. When I began, I thought I would find some way to work or volunteer with an organization that has some focus on nutrition. Aside from my month long stay in Kathmandu, that has not happened. Since then, however, my friend Asta has been developing her NGO, World Friendship Nepal. They work with mothers and children to educate them on healthy, post partum practices. Uterine prolapse is a common occurrence in Nepal and the NGO is teaching women what they can do to protect themselves. Because the primary focus is on women and children, Asta wants to incorporate nutrition education as well because as we all know, child nutrition is so important! She will be using the documents we put together when I was in Nepal last year.

Nutrition Education in Nepal
Nutrition Education in Nepal

There are tons of aid organizations and NGOs out there, but it’s a matter of finding one that wants to align with a dietitian and place an emphasis on nutrition education. I’ve yet to find that perfect position or opportunity, so I swear I’m somehow going to create it for myself! Something must be done. Large aid organizations help in developing countries, they donate food, deliver supplements, and help with farming practices, but I know more can be done. I want to do research on how these organizations operate. What do they do, what do they donate, and why? What systems can be improved upon? How many people are out in the field? How many are in offices? I’ve read so many plans and policies to improve nutrition outcomes over time, but let’s stop wasting time writing up these documents. We need people out there, getting into these remote villages and connecting with people. Uniceff has a big vitamin a supplementation program, but why supplement? So many of the nations that are vitamin a deficient have foods rich in vitamin a. There are so many issues involved with supplementation programs, so why not teach people improved farming practices, introduce new, nutrient dense crops? I’m not saying these things are not being done, they are, but MORE can be done, right? The WFP does food drops and staple donations. But sometimes, these staples just fill, they don’t properly nourish. We need to start from the ground, literally, by planting better, and more nutrient dense crops. Yikes! I’m getting ahead of myself because in order to do that, you need to change culture and that’s not an easy feat. Rice here in Asia rules, yet it is so nutrient void. I wish people could really understand that and make a shift.

Plate of Rice
A plate of white rice, the centerpiece to any Bangladeshi meal.

I wish I knew more. I wish I could learn some languages in remote villages, I wish I could live and work alongside locals and see how they eat and live. I wish I could befriend them and teach them about nutrition for their own benefit. Basic nutrition practices can have such positive lifelong benefits.
Even though I love fitness and working with athletes and bodybuilders, the most dramatic changes take place at the basic level. Eating the right foods can easily prevent so many avoidable diseases.
I don’t know where the future will bring me. I’ve begun contemplating starting a PhD. Maybe I can create a long term project in some remote village, working in conjunction with a small, legit NGO. If anything, I’ve come up with some recipe ideas in my head for therapeutic supplements that are far more nutrient dense than existing products currently on the market. But, with superior quality comes higher costs. I can definitely see myself experimenting in my kitchen (next time I have my own, that is).

Purple Sweet Potatoes
Purple Sweet Potatoes in Laos.

I don’t know how all NGOs work, I don’t know if I can partner with one, but whatever the case, some day I will do/make/create something to somehow alleviate some of the malnutrition in this world. Vitamin A deficiency seems to me to be a key target and sweet potatoes are calling my name. I’m going to start a sweet potato revolution, I just have to figure out how to do it. So much more learning to do!

Author: Tiffany Batsakis

Registered Dietitian
Fitness Fanatic
World Traveler
Food Lover
Weimaraner Owner

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